Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

David Holt, Free as a Little Bird

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

This week’s Free Ride* reflects on the music of David Holt, songcatcher extraordinaire, who turns 65 today. He has spent the large majority of those years learning, collecting and performing traditional folk songs and preserving the stories of the artists who pioneered the roots music of America. Born in Texas and raised in California, he made his way to my neighborhood of Fairview, in the mountains of western NC, many years ago. I can claim the fame of being on a television program with him back in 1980. A jazz and r&b combo I played with in high school, Soular System, won our school’s talent show, and we got to play on the Saturday morning kids show, Mr. Bill (Bill Norwood had been a judge at the talent show). David Holt and Jerry Read Smith were also on the show that morning, with David playing clawhammer banjo and bones, and Jerry playing the hammer dulcimer. I’d love to have a copy of that show!

David Holt is a delight to watch perform. His pure passion for traditional music and for the people who brought it to life is evident in every song and in ever story he tells. I particularly have enjoyed seeing him perform over the years with one of my musical heroes, Doc Watson, with whom he won a couple of Grammy awards. So for the freedom theme, I have chosen something David and Doc recorded over 25 years ago, Free Little Bird, a song Doc had learned from his mentor, the mountain music legend Clarence Ashley. It’s on a really fine album, Reel and Rock, which has the distinction of being the last thing Merle Watson recorded before he died in 1985. Free Little Bird is a humorous song that speaks of the playful sense of the freedom of relationships – where you’re as free as a bird (in a cage!).

I’ll not build my nest upon the ground
Nor in the branches of a tree
I’ll build my nest in my sweet Kitty’s dress
Where the bad boys will never bother me

I’m as free a little bird as I can be
I’m as free a little bird as I can be
I’m as free at my age
As a bird in a cage
I’m as free a little bird as I can be

I can just see David smiling away as Doc called for the various players, including Merle, and Jerry Douglas, to take their turns soloing between verses. Whatever “cages” any of those guys found themselves in when they got home (and I have my doubts about that), it’s clear they were flying high when they were together doing what they were gifted to do.



  • September 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Ijust posted a video of Doc Hopkins singing Free Little Bird. Doc was born in Kentucky and performed on WLS and WJJD, Chicago from early 1930 upto 1950. Doc played banjo, dobro, and guitar and always played guitar with a thumb pick. You can find Doc’s version at:

    Comment by Bill Taylor

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